Gene theory 'may explain' courtship rituals

A pair of Caribbean flamingos extend their necks during courtship The study suggested species find courtship rituals worth the effort

Attracting a mate can produce benefits for a species in the long term, a study has suggested.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh concluded that animals and plants which reproduce sexually are at a considerable advantage over species which reproduce without a partner.

They said this could explain why many species find demanding courtship rituals worth the time and effort.

The study examined sexual reproduction in fruit flies.

Researchers wanted to learn more about how DNA was randomly shuffled when the genes of two parents combined to create a new individual.

They found this recombination of genetic material allowed for damaging elements of DNA - which might cause disease or other potential drawbacks - to be weeded out within a few generations.

Healthy genes

Individuals who inherited healthy genes tended to flourish and pass on their DNA to the next generation, while weaker individuals were more likely to die without reproducing.

The findings, made possible by genome sequencing technology, suggested sexual reproduction, rather than asexual cloning of an individual, had long-term benefits for a species.

Researchers said the findings may help inform the development of crop species with high yields.

The study, published in Genome Biology and Evolution, was supported by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council.

Dr Penny Haddrill of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, who took part in the study, said: "Throughout the animal kingdom, individuals have to go to a lot of effort to reproduce.

"This is strong evidence to show that sexual reproduction enables a species to continually adapt and to weed out elements of DNA that would otherwise cause long-term damage."

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